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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm Dermot Nolan, and I became a Master of Wine (MW) in 1997, and resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2023 after being an MW for exactly 26 years. I opened a wine shop in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library, which closed in 2018, and this is my personal wine blog. I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. I was a Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events Committee, founder of the Trips Committee, and member of the Governance Committee. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Today spätburgunder, tomorrow...

On Thursday 10th September 2009, the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) held a German Pinot Noir Masterclass at Vintners Hall in London. There were 20 wines to taste, and an illustrious panel of producers, who had generously given up their time to attend (especially generous as harvest was starting for one of them already!). We had Meike Näkel, one of the daughters of Werner Näkel, of Weingut Meyer Näkel in the Ahr; Dieter Griener of Kloster Eberbach in the Rheingau; Paul Fürst of Weingut Rudolf Fürst Burgstadt in Franken; the lusciusly named Yquem Viehhauser, Cellar Master (or Mistress to be exact) of Weingut Bernhard Huber in Baden; and Joachim Heger, of Weingut Dr Heger, also in Baden.

Now, spätburgunder is not exactly the darling of the wine trade, although plantings in Germany have increased and it is now about 7% of total plantings. My own experience, over the years, is that it has often been made with too much oak and not enough finesse. Having said that, I tasted a lovely spätburgunder at Von Buhl in 2007 which had lovely fruit and texture. Generally, it has always seemed to be the case that the wines lacked the elegance of Burgundy, although often commanding prices of similar levels!

We started with the Meyer Näkel wines, with three wines from the Dernauer Pfarrwingert Grosses Gewächs vineyard and the fourth an Auslese from the same vineyard. The 2007 was a very good wine, with quite classic pinot noir characters, noticeable black pepper but well-made and long. The 2006 was similar but much deeper in fruit style, black fruits as opposed to the more red fruit style of the '07. I thought this was very good to excellent but I had reservations about the prices (GBP44.65 being the stated price in the tasting booklet!). The 2004 was not as good, being noticeably more acidic in style, lacking fruit depth on the mid-palate and also showing some volatility. The 1999 was a mature wine, very smooth with sweet tobacco leaf notes and a supple mid-palate. Drinking very well now but not suggesting any need to keep it.

Next to the Kloster Eberbach wines.Again, we had four wines from the same vineyard: Assmannshäuser Hollenberg. The 2005 was decent, with nice youthful red fruits, but finishing a bit oaky for me. The 2003 was remarkably good, indeed very good. Quite stewed on the nose with dark, bitter plums and chocolate (a very hot year, similar to 1947 and 1959) suggesting a bitter tannic palate, nothing could have been farther from the truth as the palate was rich, with supple acidity, deep dark fruit, no noticeable tannins ad well-balanced alcohol (15% abv) to boot! The 1989 was very good, although perhaps drying out a bit on the finish. It had a lovely mature nose with spicy notes and tobacco leaf, similar flavours on the palate and very elegant. The 1959 was a really interesting wine. Almost port-like on the nose with a burnt sugar note, the palate was sweet on entry, with ripe, spicy fruits, quite smooth and drinking well. Although Herr Griener felt it would still age I felt it was a very good curiosity - it shows that pinot noir can age well but was not, for me, a wow wine.

Next we had the wines from Weingut Fürst in Franken. For me, these were the most consistent but also the best of the day. Again, four wines from the same site, the R Centgrafenberg Grosses Gewächs. I am a keen fan of wines from Franken, both riesling and silvaner, but this was the firs time I'd tasted a spätburgunder from this region. The 2007 was dense and very good - cheery and black pepper nose, with ripe sweet cherry fruit entry, fresh tannins, black pepper spice and minerality on the mid-palate and a long finish. The 2005 was not so good, being slightly volatile on the nose and with cabbage-cherry fruits on the palate, with dry tannins and slightly unbalanced alcohol on the finish. In fact, I found the 2005s generally to be variable throughout the tasting. The 2003, however, made up for the 2005 - intensely peppery on the nose, with notes of clove as well, it was rich, with dark cherries, firm but well-integrated tannins, mineral mid-palate and a long, tight finish. Very good. The 1997 was another wine to show the ageing potential of pinot noir, having quite a dark berry fruit nose and similar style on the palate - indeed, showing almost no aged characters at all. Again firm and mineral on the mid-palate but very well-balanced and long.

We then had the first of two visits to Baden, starting with the wines of Bernhard Huber. We had two Hecklinger Schlossberg Reserve QbA wines, followed by two Reserve QbAs. The 2006 was very good, with cherry and pepper notes (something of a common theme!) on the nose, and rich, spicy fruits on the palate. Firm and mineral, some oak spice, the wine opened up on the finish with lovely cherry fruits. The 2005 bucked the trend for tis vintage, being very good indeed but expensive - €48 at the cellar door! Made with 70% whole clusters, it had a cinnamon spicy nose, with very smooth ripe cherry fruits and supple acidity, soft tannins, sweet ripe fruits mid-palate and very elegant and long. Really nice. The 2001 was one of the best wines of the day, having a dark cherry nose, with rich, supple and deep cherry fruits on the palate, very elegant and very long. Really lovely and at €40 cellar door, good value. However, I found the 1990 to be bad - the nose smelled like old spice and the palate was sour and tart - a wine that was far too old and had not stood the test of time. The €90 being asked for this wine was €90 too much.

Finally, the wines of the Dr Heger winery, based in the Kaiserstuhl. Overall, these wines were disappointing for me. It must be noted that Joachim Heger had chosen wines which showed changes in style, in particular wine making methods, and that, therefore, the quality of the wines was secondary to their educational significance. We started with an Achkarrer Schlossberg *** QbA 2005 which showed a return to the general 2005 style - nice but lacked sufficient fruit depth to match the oak. The Ihringer Winklerberg *** QbA 2001 was a much better wine. Spice and tobacco leaf nose, it had better fruit depth on the palate and still showed some primary cherry fruits. Very well-balance, it was long and really good. The 1999 *** QbA from the same vineyard was not so great - they had problems with slow fermentation (resulting in 4.7 g/L residual sugar) and, for me, the wine was volatile on both nose and palate and lacked any redeeming qualities. The 1993 *** Spatlese Trocken was not good at all - tart and bitter at once, lacking depth and not good at all. This was made, I believe, in a rotofermenter, whereas the 2001 was made using punch-down. Whether the method had as much influence as the vintage I don't know, but these were worth tasting to see an evolution taking place.

I am on record as believing that the best pinot noir is from Burgundy, although caveat emptor as there is a lot of rubbish to be had in this most wonderful of wine regions. Following that, the wines from the better wineries in California (those who treat pinot carefully and who seek finesse rather than slap-in-the-face power), then Tasmania and, following from Landmark, Yarra and Mornington and other areas in Victoria in Australia, with Austria being the dark horse on the outside. Germany is never likely to feature highly: not because the quality isn't possible - it is - but because the prices are very high. There is very little to be done about this as production is small and there is high demand but when I can buy a Saintsbury for €35 or so in Ireland where we have extremely high taxes on wine, to be asked for €40 - 90 for wines of lesser quality in Germany is ridiculous. For me, riesling will always be the best German grape but the best burgunder in Germany is grauburgunder - pinot gris. There is a lot of really good wine made from GB and I believe it delivers a better quality to price ratio.

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